The Magnificat

December 4, 2022

Book: Luke

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Scripture: Luke 1:39-56

We celebrate the greatness of a God who would bless us with the coming of Christ.

Well, I did a little thinking about our birthday song this week. Its full title is Happy Birthday To You. It’s the actual title of it. It was written in the late 1800s to the tune of a song called Good Morning to All. I bet you can guess how that’s sung. Up until 2015, there was still a legally recognized copyright on that song, making it the most lucrative, the most financially successful song of all time. Do you know that? The Happy Birthday to You song, most financially successful song of all time. That is crazy, isn’t it? But you know, as popular as it is, that song is not very good. Let’s think about this. Let’s look at this. Look at this thing line by line. It starts off with “Happy birthday to you”, which is fine. That’s fine, you’re wishing me happiness on my birthday. I’m sure the rest of the song is going to flesh this theme out. Let’s have a look at the next line here. It’s just “Happy birthday to you”. Doesn’t this feel like a place where they could have expanded on the theme? It feels like a missed opportunity here on this next one. The third line is where it starts to get really deep. It starts off “Happy birthday”, which is worrisome because it feels like we’ve been over this before. But then, it follows it up with “dear” and then “[your name]”. Surprise, we wrote you a song, right? This was written for you. We know it was a little repetitive there at the beginning, but don’t worry this is for you. We always had you in mind. That’s how a child must hear it for the first time. I don’t remember hearing it for the first time but think about it. When a child hears this for the first time, they think, wow, my name is in there, they wrote me a song, until they go to another birthday party, and then they realize it was never truly theirs. Well, there’s one more line to the whole thing. Surely the people who wrote the song. Hmm, that is disappointing.  Have you ever seen a song where three quarters of the lyrics are just the title of that song? That’s just lazy. Have you ever thought about how deep and complex and rich and theologically satisfying are the songs that we’ve written for the celebration of Jesus’s birth? Incredibly rich, detailed songs. We have haunting, longing, Old Testament prophetic songs, like the one we sung earlier. It’s one of my favorites in the whole Christmas song Canon. Oh, Come Emmanuel, I love that song. It’s one of my two favorites, the other one being Hark the Herald Angels Sing, which is a celebration of the reconciliation of God and sinners. Jesus’s songs are really good, thankfully. Thankfully, we wrote better ones for him. Could you imagine if they were as trite as this one, that we have here today?

Today we’re going to look at the first birthday song that was ever written for Jesus. It was written by his mom Mary, and it is famously known as the Magnificat. That word comes from the Latin translation of the Gospel of Luke, where from the first line of it, Mary exclaims that she, her soul, magnifies the Lord. So, Magnificat is the word magnify. It’s sometimes called the Song of Mary or the Canticle of Mary. It’s been used in worship by the church for 2000 years and for good reason. It’s a song that is very, very rich in praise and joy because it’s Mary’s reflection on the goodness of the Lord, and how richly He has blessed her. Imagine if our birthday song was not just about a person’s personal happiness, but a song of praise for the greatness of a God who would create a person like you. That is Jesus’s birthday song. Today, we’re going to celebrate the greatness of a God who would bless us with the coming of Christ. You can open your Bibles to Luke Chapter 1. We’re going to begin in verse 39 today. You’ll probably want it open in front of you because it is longer so you can see the whole thing all at once.

The Canticle of Mary is part of a visit that she makes to her relative, Elizabeth. So, we’re going to first of all, look at this meeting, the greeting that Elizabeth gives to Mary. And then we’re going to look at Mary’s song line by line, or thought by thought, like we did with our birthday song here. You can expect that this one will be a lot more edifying than this one here. So, let’s begin in verse 39. “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.'” This is a very different greeting than you probably typically get when you visit your relatives. Mary walks into Zechariah’s house, sees Elizabeth, and greets her, and then John, still in Elizabeth’s womb, gives a kick. It says that that he “leapt”. So, this was not a small kick. I’m not sure how high you can leap in there, but it was some big movement, some big movement. And that’s probably because of a spiritual thing that’s taking place. Sometimes people think this is the point where baby John is filled with the Holy Spirit. And that’s because up in verse 15, it says that John will be filled with the Holy Spirit even while he’s still in his mother’s womb. That probably is the reason for the leap here. But the focus actually isn’t on John being filled with the Spirit. It’s actually focused on Elizabeth. It says Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. And the reason for that is that she is going to speak like a prophet here. The Lord fills her with the spirit, so she has insight into Mary’s situation. It says that she prophesies with a loud cry, which is kind of odd to us. Why are you screaming? But it’s not really. When someone prophesies or has a loud cry in scripture, it means that they’re proclaiming something. It doesn’t mean necessarily they’re screaming it, but they’re proclaiming. And here she declares that Mary is blessed among women, and that the fruit of her womb, the child in her, is also blessed. Here’s a question. How did she know that Mary’s pregnant already? Well, John jumped for joy, and the Spirit gave her insight. The mother, of the Herald of the Messiah, is declaring the greatness of the mother of the Messiah, and of the Messiah himself. So, what you have here in this interchange is each woman doing or carrying out the role that her child will carry out. Do you see that? It’s like a little bit of a mirror of what their babies are going to do. Do you see how Elizabeth is already putting herself in a place of submission under Mary? Elizabeth asks why she would be so honored to have a visit from the woman who is the mother of her Lord? Remember, Elizabeth is not a young woman. Elizabeth is older. In fact, she’s old enough to be beyond the age that a woman would normally have a baby. And at the same time, Mary in this situation is probably about 16 years old. Culturally in that time the honor would usually be for Mary to stand in the presence of Elizabeth. But here Elizabeth is given spiritual insight to see that Mary is carrying her Lord. She calls Him Lord. And so, she knows that she’s actually the one that’s being honored. This is exactly what John will do with Jesus. He’s going to see that while his role is important, its importance derives only from the importance of Jesus. And so, John will be honored for Jesus to come to him. But then he will quickly turn all of his disciples to follow Jesus. Don’t follow me anymore, follow after Jesus. We’re going to come back to this point later in the book because we’ll see it come up again and again throughout the book.

But let me just say briefly here, that there is no following Christ without submission to Christ. You can’t in any sense say, “I follow Jesus”, without being submitted to Jesus. If you don’t see your role and purpose in this world as being subservient to Jesus, well then you just don’t have the gospel. You don’t understand the gospel. Even from before he was born, an older woman filled with the spirit recognized embryonic Jesus as her Lord. You’re carrying my Lord, my master. I’m His servant. A lot of people will talk about Jesus’s Kingship in their lives when it comes to falling under His protection or under His blessing. Those are the times when we say, “Yes, I want Jesus as my King”; when he’s my strong tower, when he’s taking care of me, when he’s blessing me. But that title King often, or at least sometimes, goes away for folks when they talk about things like direction or purpose for their life or decisions or how to talk to family or how to be part of a church community or how to handle money or how to treat your spouse or really whatever it is. Let Elizabeth be your guide here.

Before Jesus was even old enough to kick in the womb, Elizabeth recognized His Lordship. And Mary’s response to Elizabeth is her song. We’re going to look at this a little bit at a time. We’re going to look at this kind of section by section or line by line. But before we do that, you might be thinking, did Mary just come up with a song right there on the spot and start singing? Is that what people used to do back then? Was it like a musical? Did she just have this thing fully formed from the beginning? Almost certainly not. I think that the song is something that she wrote later, probably reflecting on her thoughts that weren’t as organized in the moment. She probably had many of these thoughts that then were later arranged into the song that we’re about to see here. It may even be that she wrote this during the three months visit that she had with Elizabeth. So, let’s look at where Mary’s mind and heart go when she thinks about what the Lord has done for her. And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”. This is the happy part of the Happy Birthday song for Jesus. Only here the happiness isn’t just some sort of fleeting joy rooted in cake. This joy here, this is rejoicing that starts with the soul. It starts deep within her. It’s the very essence of who she is. And it comes forward out of her in a form of praise. And the object of that praise is God. And that God to her is her Savior. See, what Mary is doing here is responding to the reality that the promise that the Lord made to her and to her people, Israel, is going to be fulfilled. It’s going to be fulfilled, and the Lord is going to use Mary as his servant to fulfill that promise. The soul and the spirit here are interchangeable. Just like Lord, and God my Savior, here refer to the same thing. Everything within Mary wants to praise God. More specifically, everything within Mary wants to magnify God. It’s slightly different. To magnify something is to demonstrate the greatness of that thing. So, something can be great. But to magnify the greatness, you show it to be great. You exclaim it to be great. To bring greatness is to focus on the greatness of that thing. And so that’s what worship is. It is tangibly demonstrating the glory of the Lord. You ever think about that? You ever think about when you’re singing? What you’re actually doing is declaring the greatness of the glory of God on earth. You are magnifying. God is glorious on His own, but what you’re doing is magnifying the glory of God. We don’t sing for us. I mean I hope you enjoy singing, but we don’t do it because we enjoy it. Singing and worship and magnifying is not a gift to us. It’s a gift to God. These things are the result of the glory of God displayed in us by His Spirit. They are the response of our soul to God’s grace that gets then put on display for those around us, so that they too can see the glory of God. This is why you often can take stock of your own soul by looking at your engagement in worship. You can take your own spiritual temperature by looking at what your soul does when you worship. When I see a guy just sort of standing in a worship service there just sort of mouthing the words to a song, or you know just kind of a grumpy blank stare on his face, like when’s this thing going to get over with? I’m worried for him. I’m worried for him. I’m pretty concerned. Not because singing is required for salvation. It’s not. But because magnifying the Lord is a function of the transformed spirit. That’s what a transformed spirit is. Someone who really understands, who’s been made new by the gospel. There’s going to be a desire within you to magnify the glory of God. A soul that doesn’t passionately praise the Lord is not a soul that’s been made new by the grace of Jesus. Now I get that sometimes it can be hard to do this. I recognize that there are times when your heart is heavy, when your soul is weak. But if you’re not moved by a passion to magnify the greatness of the Lord consistently, I think that’s telling you something about your own soul, about your own spiritual life. She continues, “for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name”. Here’s why Mary is magnifying the Lord on this occasion. She recognizes that there is nothing about her that would cause God to show favor to her. If you look at her life, she’s like, there’s nothing about me that would cause God, the creator of the universe, to look down on me and to use me. That’s what she means when she says, “the humble estate of His servant”.

We don’t know a whole lot about Joseph and Mary, but they were probably working class. They were probably the blue-collar kind of workers of their time. There would be any number of prominent families in bigger cities like Jerusalem that have prestige and wealth. And if God had chosen to have Jesus born into one of those families, it would have immediately raised the profile of Jesus in all of Israel. He could have done that. But God chose to raise the status of a young girl betrothed to a carpenter. Do you know how we know that Joseph is a carpenter? It’s not mentioned in the narrative, the birth narratives. You know how we know that? In Matthew 13, Jesus was being rejected by the people of Nazareth, and they said, “Is this not the carpenter’s son?”. It’s the only mention in all of Scripture. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” In other words, come on, how can the Messiah be the son of the guy that made my dining room table? How’s that possible? How could that be? You know what God does for Mary? He does the same thing for Mary that he does for everyone who is saved by Jesus. He lifts the head of the meek and the lowly. Now all generations of the world will call Mary blessed because God chose to raise her status to the servant of God. You know that’s the highest position you can ever you can ever achieve, that you’ll ever attain? That’s the greatest level that you can unlock in life. The highest status you can receive is servant of God. It’s the greatest place you’ll be. And the only way to get it is to have the Lord give it to you. And he only gives it to you by his grace. And you’ll only receive His grace if you, like Mary, realize that you don’t deserve it. You don’t deserve it. She writes, “And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation”. You and I get to have the same joy that Mary is having here. All the generations will call her blessed. But we can be blessed to because his mercy is for every generation going forward.

Mary had us in mind when she wrote this. She saw that the source of her joy would be the source of every generation’s joy. Because every generation of people to come could receive the mercy, the undeserved favor, the grace of God, just like she was experiencing as a servant. But who does this go to? Who gets this? Have a look. It goes to those who fear the Lord. It doesn’t go to everyone. It’s for everyone. It’s sufficient for everyone, but not everyone receives it. The condition of a person who has received God’s mercy is that this person fears the Lord. Now understand that this is not the same sort of fear and trembling that you would have for, say, a dangerous enemy. This is the kind of respectful fear that a child would have for his father and for his mother. This is the fear of someone who recognizes that God is our creator, and we are His creatures who are below him and require His mercy on us. Especially since we’ve rebelled against him in our sin, like people who have no fear of him. Because that’s what sin is. When you sin, when you commit sin, you are saying I have no fear of God. I do not fear what he would do about this. If you think of sin as an act of defiance against God, you can see why Mary would say that His mercy is for those who fear him. See, His judgment is for those who continue in their defiance. Receiving God’s mercy for our sins requires recognizing our humble state before Him. We need to recognize that we are people in need of mercy. We were not sufficient on our own. We need God’s mercy.

Here’s a description of the character of the Lord that shows the contrast between those who fear the Lord and receive His mercy, and those who don’t. “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” If you’ve ever wondered whether God had a strong upper body, here it is. He does. He’s got a strong arm. He says, of course that’s anthropomorphic. God doesn’t have arms. But human traits are often used in Scripture to refer to attributes of God so that we can understand them. It’s one of the ways that God condescends to us, to show us what He’s like. We can’t fully understand God. We don’t know what He’s like. And so, He uses things we do know to describe Himself. With his strong arm, he does a couple of things. You might think a celebration of the Lord, like this song, would contain only the good things that God does, and only the positive things that we would want to sing about. But consistently throughout Scripture, God’s glory is demonstrated both by how He saves us with His mercy and how He judges with his righteousness. Those things are always together. On the one hand, he scatters the proud with the thoughts of their hearts. In Scripture, scattering is a bad thing. You don’t want to be scattered. Think of it like, if you were at a campfire and an ember flew out of the campfire and landed in some dry grass, what would you do? You’d run over there, and you’d stomp on it, right? And you’d scatter the embers so that the heat would disperse, and then it would go out. It would just flame out. Friends, that’s what God does to the prideful people who think that they figured out everything on their own. They think that in their own heart they know how life works best. They’ve rebelled against God, they’ve ignored his word, they’ve rejected the gospel, and they forge their own path, and God’s might will eventually scatter them. And what looks like strength for them, what they think is strength, will actually be shown to be weakness, because it’ll be scattered.

Similarly, God has brought down the mighty from their thrones. Clearly in mind here are those who rule like the proud people that Mary just described. They’re prideful. They’re exalted rulers. So, when we hear this, we often think of people who are in charge. People who have government positions, who are rulers or kings or despots or whatever it is around the world. But don’t just think of government officials here. This is true for anyone who’s built any kind of self-serving kingdom that’s built on an ideology that rejects the Lord. Everyone from the powerful business person, or an entrepreneur who has built a successful empire using worldly standards, to the teacher who makes the entire class do everything to just bring her glory for her accomplishments, or to the dad who makes the whole family serve him all the time because he’s the one in charge and he’s going to build up his own self-worth by making everybody do exactly what he wants them to do all the time. God crushes all of those thrones. Pastors too, I won’t leave my tribe out. Pastors too. There have been plenty of so-called pastors who have used the guise of serving the Lord to build empires dedicated to displaying their own stuff, their amazing skills or whatever. Church, it doesn’t matter what it is. If it’s not built to show the glory of God, it’s eventually coming down. Anything that’s not built to show the magnificence of the glory of our Creator is eventually going to be scattered. And at the same time, the same arm, the Lord builds up those of humble estate. His strong arm both crushes his enemies, and it lifts up the weak. God is simultaneously bringing down and lifting up. Mary sees this clearly because she’s in that group. She’s already told us that she’s in that group. The circumstances surrounding Jesus Nativity will show us that he came to side with those who are lowly and who are marginalized and who are weak. If you are rich, you won’t get anything from the Lord. And if you’re weak and hungry, you will be exalted and fulfilled. You say, Kyle, but we live in Rochester. We’ve got millions sitting in the 401 K. What does this mean for us? It means this is a challenge church. There’s no sugar coating this. It means that we have a great responsibility to side with the poor and the marginalized and the weak, and to care greatly about their welfare through this great gospel of generosity that we have received. It means if you aren’t marshaling all of the wealth that God has given you to serve the purpose of declaring the glory of God on Earth, there’s something very spiritually wrong and eternally dangerous going on in your heart. You will have to fight hard to make sure that when the world looks at you, it is obvious that Christ is your treasure. Not the other things. They should see that your exultation comes from Jesus lifting you up by His grace, as opposed to some exalting that you’re doing of yourself.

Mary rounds out the song with the base promise for her confidence in the Lord. “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” This is always the basis for believing in God’s promises. God’s covenant. His covenant. He got to establish a relationship with his people. That’s what a covenant is. It’s the way God says this is how we’re going to be together. He said, I’m going to be your God, you’re going to be my people. I’m going to make you into a nation and I’m going to bless you. And over and over again throughout the history of Israel, God shows himself to be faithful to this promise. Even when people turned away from God, He did not turn away from his people. He showed mercy to His people. That’s what Mary is talking about here. She trusts that all of these things are true about the Lord, because God made a covenant and God always keeps His covenant. He always keeps his promises.

Now, let me close with this. When is all this going to take place? When is it going to happen? When has God done all these things? Is Mary only reflecting on the past? Well, no she can’t be because remember this, this song is in response to God blessing her. This is a birthday song. So, she’s singing here. What she is singing here has something to do with the child that she’s carrying. The best way to understand this is that she is looking out into the future and seeing what God is going to accomplish through this baby. Her soul is magnifying the glory of God for what the Lord will accomplish when this son of hers completes his mission. She’s looking out into the future and saying, when this child has done everything, this child is going to do, this is the world that we’re going to live in. This is a celebration of the right ordering of the world under Christ. Church, let me let me ask you something. Does your soul magnify at the thought of Jesus rightly ordering our world; that everything is made right under Christ? What happens in your spirit? Does your spirit sing at the thought of your purpose in life being to submit to Him? To submit to Jesus, to find all of your purpose in serving Him? Does it rejoice in the fact that God has exalting, hungry, lowly, meek and powerless people through the strength of His Savior? Because that’s the gospel. That’s the gospel. That’s the Good News. The Good News is that you’re powerless and in need of strength from Christ. Isn’t that good news? You are powerless. But Christ is powerful, and He’s come to save you. That’s the gospel. Mary knew it. Elizabeth knew it. Unborn baby John the Baptist knew it. Do you know it? And what happens in your soul if you know it? Do you leap for joy? That’s a birthday song. Would you pray with me?

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